And the Golden Tombstone goes to …

Contact: Brenon Daly

In addition to getting insight into what corporate development officials plan to buy in the coming year, our annual survey also asked which company they thought made the smartest acquisition during the previous year. (See our full report on the survey.) So which company gets the coveted Golden Tombstone for 2008? Hewlett-Packard, for its $13.9bn purchase of EDS in May.

However, in handing out this peer-voted accolade, we hope that HP doesn’t stumble after stepping up to the dais to accept it, as happened to last year’s winner. (Maybe this is a variation of the ‘Sports Illustrated cover jinx,’ which is a surprisingly accurate predictor of which team is about to hit an inexplicable – and intractable – slump.) Our 2007 Golden Tombstone went to Citrix for its $500m pickup of XenSource.

Although Citrix had promised big things for the virtualization startup, it is coming up short. When the ink had just dried on the acquisition, Citrix talked about $50m (or even higher, privately) of 2008 revenue from the startup, which had no sales to speak of when it sold. Now, it looks like XenDesktop and XenServer will actually contribute about $25m for the year. Granted, the startup XenSource and the 46-year-old EDS are at opposite ends of the corporate lifecycle, and the strategies that drove the deals are completely different. Still, we’re a superstitious bunch, particularly when we’ve already had so much bad luck on the market.

Microsoft’s ‘paper’ trail leads to Citrix?

Shares of Citrix jumped 5% Wednesday on reheated rumors that Microsoft may be bidding for its longtime partner. Volume in Citrix shares was about 50% heavier than average. One source indicated that Microsoft would be paying $36 for each Citrix share, which is essentially where Citrix started the year.

This rumor, of course, has made the rounds before. We noted in April that although both IBM and Cisco were rumored suitors for Citrix, our top pick for the acquirer would be Microsoft. (The two companies have been close for years, with Citrix being one of just two companies with access to the Windows source code.) All that said, however, we don’t see Microsoft buying Citrix. (How would Microsoft handle the fact that XenSource, which is arguably Citrix’s most-coveted asset, is built on open source software?)

As to why the rumor resurfaced Wednesday, we might trace that back to a misread of Microsoft’s announcement the day before that it was planning to sell some $2bn of commercial paper. The thinking is that Redmond might be prepping an even larger offering. But looking at Microsoft’s current balance sheet, it could buy Citrix four times over with the cash and short-term investments it already holds.

What’s brewing at Cisco?

Although Cisco chief executive John Chambers has thrown cold water on speculation about a large acquisition, the market continues to buzz about possible deals by the networking giant. Observers who think Cisco is big-game hunting point to a number of unusual moves from the company, which – with a bit of reading between the lines – appear to suggest something big is brewing.

For starters, they point to the fact that Cisco has largely stepped out of dealflow, inking just two deals so far in 2008. (We recently noted Cisco’s conspicuous absence, just a day before it announced its $120m purchase of network device configuration vendor Pure Networks.) In comparison, this time last year Cisco had inked nine acquisitions. Additionally, Cisco has drastically scaled back its share repurchase program, perhaps suggesting the company is stockpiling cash for a big deal.

Of course, most of the rumors have concerned a possible pairing of Cisco and EMC, largely so Cisco could get its hands on VMware. (EMC sports a market capitalization of $30bn.) This comes on the heels of earlier rumors that Cisco might be looking at Citrix, largely so it could get its hands on XenSource.

We have a new name to toss into the Cisco M&A rumor mill: McAfee, which has a $6bn market cap. Speculation has recently surfaced that the networking company is eyeing the largest IT security pure play, a combination that would allow Cisco – for the first time – to have control over endpoints. It would pick up a solid portfolio of security products from McAfee, notably encryption and port and device control offerings, as well as potentially salvaging Cisco’s disastrous NAC effort. (And as an added bonus with the deal, Cisco could stick it to Symantec. Cisco has little love for Symantec.)

Whether a deal materializes, or even is being considered, we would expect Cisco to emphasize security much more in the future. It recently handed the division over to Scott Weiss, who came with the January 2007 acquisition of IronPort Systems. A VC who has invested in Weiss’ companies over the years (Weiss also ran Hotmail) said he wouldn’t be surprised if Cisco turned over the entire business to Weiss when Chambers decides to step down.